By Robert E. Rook

Source: Arab Studies Quarterly, Winter2000, Vol. 22 Issue 1, p71, 19p.

A RECENT ARTICLE EXAMINING ZIONIST ideology and water resource development during the pre-state period and its influences upon contemporary Israeli water policies provided readers with an oblique glance at the multi-faceted assistance Americans furnished Zionist and early Israeli leaders with regard to water resource development issues.(n1) To date, most examinations of Zionist, and later Israeli, water resource plans and programs rarely fail to mention Walter Clay Lowdermilk, James B. Hays, and John L. Savage, individuals who made significant contributions to Israel's "land-water nexus" in the late 1940s and early 1950s.(n2) That these individuals provided significant technical expertise and, equally important, political leverage to Zionist arguments that Palestine was a despoiled paradise awaiting more enlightened management is undisputed. But Lowdermilk, Hays, and Savage were not the first American advisors to assist Zionist settlers in their quest to capture Palestine's hydraulic future. Credit for that belongs to Elwood Mead who advised Zionist leaders throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

An internationally recognized authority on irrigation, hydraulic engineering, and water law by 1920, Mead eventually won acclaim as the Hoover Dam's chief engineer and eventually became the Commissioner of the United States Bureau of Reclamation. During this same period, Mead also advised Zionist leaders on water management issues in Palestine and lobbied the British mandatory regime on their behalf. As much as any American at the time, or arguably since, Elwood Mead understood the critical land-water nexus and its centrality to the success of Zionist endeavors in Palestine. Mead lent hard-won experience and expertise from the American west to Zionist settlers in the Middle East and in the process became the first "conduit" of American hydraulic expertise in support of Zionist activities in Palestine.

To Mead, the American west had much to offer Zionist Jews in their campaign to create a new nation in the Middle East and, although initially engaged as a technical advisor, Mead provided valuable political leverage for Zionists. Chaim Weizmann, the president of World Zionist Organization, attempted to use Mead's technical reports to win political support for a Jewish state in Palestine. Mead, however, was not an uncritical Zionist advocate. In fact, he bore neither a religious nor a sentimental attachment to Zionism. Accordingly, he was unwavering in his condemnation of Jewish settlers who elevated political ideology above cost-benefit analysis and sound engineering principles. Mead was an engineer and a practitioner of what environmental historian Samuel Hays has labeled "the gospel of efficiency," according to which the efficient use of natural resources was more than a means to an end--it was a goal unto itself, an essential indicator of a society's fitness.(n3) Mead's frequently rigid analytic approach was nevertheless tinged with strong ethnic and racial biases that clearly influenced Mead's interpretations of Jewish land reclamation efforts in Palestine, a fact that prefigured future Zionist propaganda campaigns in America. Mead contended that Jewish settlers were making the best use of Palestine's land and water resources, unlike Palestine's Arab population. And efficient, judicious resource management was a major factor, in Mead's eyes, in any decision on who should ultimately control Palestine's future. Mead's arguments reinforced a central Zionist idea that Jewish settlers were Palestine's best hope for economic development. In the process, Mead demonstrated that water resource development was an exercise both in hydraulic management and in public relations. But, an understanding of Mead's plans for Palestine's requires a brief examination of the career path that led to Mead's eventual arrival in Palestine in 1923.


A boyhood spent on a farm in Indiana convinced Mead that his destiny lay elsewhere both geographically and vocationally. Consequently, upon graduation from Purdue University in 1882, where he had won acclaim for his work in "agriculture and science," Mead headed west to become a professor of mathematics and physics at Colorado State Agricultural College in Ft. Collins, Colorado. But restless and determined to bolster his academic credentials, Mead resigned his position less than a year after accepting it and resumed his education, completing first an engineering degree at Iowa Agricultural College and then a master of science degree at Purdue University. Returning to Colorado in 1885, Mead became an assistant to Colorado's State Engineer and also accepted an appointment as a professor of irrigation at Colorado State University, the first such position in the United States.(n4) In these capacities, Mead began a career that, according environmental historian Donald Worster, profoundly influenced "the course of western hydraulic history." Over the next twenty years, Elwood Mead supervised irrigation development in several western states and was instrumental in drafting water laws for Colorado and Wyoming.(n5)

To Mead, the efficient use of water in economic development was an exercise in both scientific management and social planning. Intensive irrigation would reshape arid lands and revolutionize rural life. In Mead's vision of a more perfect America, the agrarian ideal required an infusion of ideas and attitudes consistent with what American historians have branded the American Progressive movement. Although American progressivism accommodated a wide range of individuals and agendas, its complex amalgam contained several elements that Elwood Mead championed. Expert management, technology, and orderly, business-like arrangements would transform the rural yeoman farmer into an agrarian factory manager able to produce larger quantities of food for the cities. Equally important to Mead was the social revolution that his methods would foster: more efficient farm management produced better crops and better citizens.(n6)

Mead's combination of formal education, practical experiences in irrigation management, and theories on land and water development established him as a highly-sought-after expert on irrigation in arid environments. Mead's achievements as Wyoming's State Engineer during the 1890s led to successive appointments as a director of irrigation investigations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as a professor of rural institutions at the University of California, Berkeley, as a supervisor for California's farm settlement program, and ultimately, in 1924, as the Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. In these capacities, Elwood Mead influenced water resource development throughout the western United States and around the world; Mead spent eight years helping the Australian government establish irrigation colonies in its arid southwest territories immediately prior to his first visit to Palestine.

Mead's visit to Palestine in 1923 was in part the product of a gradually evolving relationship with Zionist leaders that began several years prior to his first visit to Palestine. As Professor of Rural Institutions at the University of California, Mead encountered Jewish students from Palestine and learned the rudiments of both Zionism and the problems of its application. The Jewish students greatly impressed Mead with their diligence, intellect, and desire to adopt his techniques of farm management.(n7) A more formal encounter with the movement occurred in 1920 via Josef Wilkansky, head of the Zionist Commission's Agricultural Department in Jerusalem. In late 1919 the Zionist leadership in London sent Wilkansky to the United States in search of information and techniques that would help Jewish settlers in Palestine avoid mistakes made by farmers in geographically similar areas in the United States. Wilkansky visited swamp drainage projects in Florida, river basin management efforts in Utah, Arizona, and Texas. He also made an extensive, and fortuitous, tour of state regulated farming in California.(n8) Wilkansky found much to admire in the American reclamation methods he observed throughout his nine month tour. Specifically, his sojourn in California led to an introduction to Elwood Mead who gave the Zionist leader a glimpse of Palestine's potential future.

As head of California's Land Settlement Board, Mead had pioneered a cooperative, business-like approach to farm management in the Imperial Valley. Scientific management, extensive irrigation, and a dedication to profit were the keys to Mead's not always successful fusion of independent yeomanry and state supervision. Early setbacks, however, did not deter Mead. Faith in scientific management and a commitment to the redemption of American rural life sustained Mead amid failures and criticism of methods.(n9) Mead's optimism, perseverance, and occasional successes impressed Wilkansy who proclaimed Mead's efforts in "the hothouse of America" a model for the future development of the Jordan Valley.(n10) Wilkansky's reports to London prompted Chaim Weizmann to enlist Mead's help in planning Zionist agriculture in Palestine. Weizmann ordered Selig Soskin, a London-based agricultural expert, to Verify Wilkansky's assessments of Mead and to solicit Mead's assistance. Soskin advocated intensive agriculture and staunchly criticized the autarkic philosophies embraced by many Zionist settlements in Palestine. To Soskin, specialized, irrigated, and scientific farming was essential to an eventual Jewish state in Palestine.(n11) Chaim Weizmann believed that both Soskin and Mead held the keys to the future success of Jewish colonization efforts in Palestine at a time when Weizmann was becoming increasingly concerned about declining revenues, dwindling immigration, and the escalating costs of settlement.(n12) Elwood Mead's expertise would reinforce Soskin's controversial agenda, help alleviate Weizmann's economic concerns, and, from the Jewish vantage, secure Jewish Palestine's future.

Getting Mead to come to Palestine proved difficult. By 1922, Mead's successes in Colorado, Wyoming, and California had generated a worldwide demand for his services. However, the deteriorating situation in Palestine and the Churchill White Paper, linking future Jewish immigration to Palestine's "economic absorbtive capacity," demanded a redoubled effort to demonstrate the viability and potential profitability of Zionist settlements. Consequently, Weizmann and American Zionist leaders asked Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, a champion of American progressivism, to prevail upon Mead to come to Palestine as soon as possible.(n13) Asking for Brandeis's intervention was a pragmatic yet ironic move on Weizmann's behalf. In 1920, Brandeis, by then an outspoken leader of the American Jewish community, had severed his formal ties with the Zionist movement over a philosophical dispute with Weizmann and other European Zionists. To Brandeis, Zionism represented the ideals of American progressivism more so than Jewish nationalism; modern businessmen methods must prevail over passionate speeches and abstract ideals. Moreover, Brandeis maintained that, with the nominal British acceptance of a Jewish homeland in the Palestine mandate, the Zionist Organization's mission became one of economic development rather than political and cultural definition.(n15) Weizmann bitterly disagreed with Brandeis's equation of Zionism with American ideals; Weizmann abhorred such "Yankee Doodle Judaism" and resented Zionism's increasing debt to "Babbitt millionaires."(n15) To Weizmann, European Zionists, Jewish colonists in Palestine, and a growing segment of American Jews, the economic development of Palestine was part of a wider agenda to demonstrate to the world that a Jewish homeland was both an economic and a political reality. That reality, however tenuous and irrational, was an increasingly critical basis for Weizmann's dreams of a Zionist future in Palestine. Philosophical differences between Weizmann and dissenters within the American Zionist movement, however, did not prevent either the offer or the pragmatic acceptance of expertise generated in the American west to help establish a firmer Jewish foothold in Arab Palestine.

A busy schedule and multiple commitments forced Mead to delay his visit to Palestine until late 1923, though he did agree to review a steady stream of data and reports sent to him detailing irrigation developments in the Zionist settlements. Weizmann assigned Soskin to assist Mead during his visit and insisted that all Zionist officials cooperate. Weizmann declared that Mead "should see everything" and make "suggestions unhampered and unfettered" by political debates within an already badly fragmented Zionist Organization. Further, Weizmann insisted that Mead's suggestions, whatever they may be, should be adopted.(n16) Weizmann's confidence in Mead did not go unrewarded. Mead's private and public assessments of Jewish colonization were both explicit endorsements of Weizmann's vision for Jewish development in Palestine and powerful ammunition in the political battles in which Weizmann was embroiled. Privately Mead advised the Zionists to continue buying land in Palestine in an effort to "round out" existing settlements. More contiguous land holdings would enable the most efficient use of money and water. Land purchases in support of expanded settlements should be confined to the Esdraelon, Jezreel, and upper Jordan valleys since Palestine's coastal plain was already showing signs of over-development. Mead was particularly concerned that rapid growth and haphazard well-drilling would threaten groundwater supplies. In addition to providing the most efficient means of settling immigrants, completion and consolidation of Zionist settlements would provide for more complete drainage and irrigation systems. Mead also recommended that Zionist leaders adopt a more businesslike approach to settlement programs; clear delineation of organizational goals, adequate capitalization of projects, strictly ordered budgets, contractual agreements, and competent business management were keys to success.(n17) Employing these techniques, Palestine could become as verdant as Southern California. Palestine's Jordan Valley, like California's Imperial Valley, had the capacity "to supply distant cities with fruits and vegetables." Mead was particularly impressed by Degania, a Zionist settlement in the upper Jordan Valley, that showed great possibilities for irrigated agriculture given its proximity to the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River.(n18)

Mead's overall optimistic assessment of and praise for Zionist efforts in Palestine, however, did not diminish his criticism of Zionist practices that violated his scientific and financial sensibilities. Zealous yet inexperienced farmers, the elevation of ideology and politics above profit-based management, and the chronic undercapitalization of settlements greatly concerned Mead. In particular, Eastern European Jews, unskilled in agriculture but deeply imbued with socialist principles, prompted Mead to chide Weizmann that Palestine might be more easily colonized by Danes.(n19) In addition, Mead condemned Zionist desires "to show how many farms could be created with the smallest amount of money rather than show what the soil and climate made possible when there was ample money" produced great inefficiency and waste. Jewish collective settlements founded upon socialist principles especially bothered Mead. A meeting with the members of a "communistic colony" proved particularly exasperating and prompted Mead to inquire, "How are you going to determine what the work is worth unless you begin thinking that a day's work is worth a certain sum of money?"(n20) Although sympathetic to the Zionist cause, Mead's loyalty to the gospel of efficiency precluded his forgiveness of Zionist sins of inefficiency and waste.

Nonetheless, Mead found much to admire after his first visit to Palestine and remained optimistic about the possibilities despite the rather sobering conditions. In a letter to Weizmann, Mead described the situation in Palestine:

It is not paradise. You have handicaps, in the way of your neighbors, a government in a transition stage and poor, and the fact that your agriculture is small with small production, but in spite of all this you can overcome these obstacles by using your minds and concentrating energetically on the problems before you .... (n21)

Among Mead's suggestions for solving these problems was more extensive development of the upper Jordan Valley. Although Degania demonstrated the promise of irrigation in the areas adjoining the Sea of Galilee, Mead recommended the purchase and drainage of the Huleh basin as part of a plan to both develop the "hinterlands" and lay claim to the Jordan Valley's extensive water resources, a suggestion that greatly pleased Weizmann.(n22) Mead was not the first to recommend the drainage of the Huleh basin. His recommendations echoed those offered by a British engineer, Constantine Mavromitis, in 1922. But Mead went further in that he linked the process and overall intensification of water development in the upper valley to the overall development of urban and rural populations throughout Palestine. The success of Zionist settlements elsewhere in Palestine, particularly coastal cities, depended upon water from the Jordan Valley. But any purchase, drainage, and development of the Huleh basin entailed negotiating a series of obstacles. Claims resulting from prior Ottoman concessions, French desires to protect the rights of their subjects in Syria, and British fears that endorsement of Jewish land purchases might provoke a violent Arab reaction delayed Zionist implementation of Mead's recommendations for more than a decade.(n23)

Mead's recommendations proved useful to Zionist efforts in Palestine on several levels. On a purely technical basis, Mead influenced land purchasing and settlement strategies in the upper Jordan valley and agricultural development outside the valley that eventually significantly increased demands on the valley's water resources. Politically, however, Mead's report proved even more useful. Weizmann used his report against rivals within the Zionist organization. To Weizmann the successful colonization of Palestine was the organization's primary goal rather than the organization of Jewish political and cultural agencies throughout the diaspora (worldwide Jewish community).(n24) It was also the program which best ensured Weizmann's control of the organization; Mead's endorsement of the Palestine colonization effort was a vote of confidence in Chaim Weizmann. In addition, Mead's capitalist ethos and strong critique of "communistic colonies" convinced Weizmann that "we ought not continue the same way a moment longer." Mead persuasively argued that Zionists had to decide between social experimentation and financial solvency.(n25) Finally, Mead's forecasts of the potential returns on investments became prominent features in Zionist fund-raising efforts in America. According to Weizmann's interpretations of Mead's estimates, a £1,000,000 investment in Palestine would yield £3,000,000 over ten years.(n26)

Perhaps most importantly, Mead's assessment of Zionist settlement efforts in Palestine enabled Weizmann to proclaim Palestine the primary focus of Zionist colonization efforts. Many places were considered as possible locations for a Jewish homeland during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For Chaim Weizmann, the alternative challenge came from Russian Jews pushing for a Crimean homeland. Mead's estimation that the water resources of the upper Jordan Valley and the adjoining Jezreel Valley could support an additional 8,000 families underwrote Weizmann's claim that these families would produce enough to support the settlement of an additional 25,000 families and enabled Weizmann to finally dismiss those still arguing for a Crimean homeland.(n27) Finally, Mead's report was given wide circulation throughout Zionist circles and became a frequently cited reference in answer to the Churchill White Paper's linkage of future Jewish immigration to the demonstration of Palestine's economic absorptive capacity. In a memorandum sent to Zionist leaders after his initial trip to Palestine, Mead pronounced

I regard the Jewish Colonies in Palestine as the most important and valuable influence now being exerted in this country for the improvement of agriculture and the creation of a stable and enlightened rural life. The creation of new and larger settlements will stabilize social and political conditions in the country, as well as give a needed support to the present rapid development of cities and towns in Palestine. Apart from any question of religious faith or aspiration the movement to create rural Jewish settlements is deserving of world wide encouragement and support.

To Mead, Palestine's developmental possibilities and Zionist designs were a perfect match.(n28)

In addition to the confidential reports and memoranda that Mead submitted to Weizmann and the Zionist leadership, Mead also publicly endorsed the Zionist program. In 1924, a few months after becoming Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Mead contributed a highly favorable review of Jewish settlements to the monthly The American Review of Reviews. His article, "New Palestine," was a Zionist publicity coup. Free of all criticisms contained in the formal report, Mead blamed Islam, Ottoman governance, and Arab culture for the demise of Roman irrigation systems that, according to Mead, once supported "lands flowing with milk and honey." Mead's harsh assessment reflected more than his professional training; Mead's racial and ethnic chauvinism surfaced throughout his career and is well-documented. For example, Mead's feared the growing Japanese and other non-Anglo populations in the American west, growth that Mead considered a direct threat to the American agrarian ideal. Perhaps Palestine's Arab population and their agricultural practices provided Mead with a glimpse of a frightening American future. Not surprisingly, Mead was effusive in his praise for Zionist settlements. According to Mead, these settlements, "cleverly planned by European experts," were similar to those Mead supervised in California and were restoring Palestine's agricultural prowess.(n29) Mead reserved his greatest praise, however, for Zionist hydraulic engineering projects. During the early 1920s an emigre Russian engineer, Pinhas Rutenberg, had convinced Winston Churchill that a dam in the upper Jordan Valley would provide power and water for all the inhabitants of Palestine. As Colonial Secretary, Churchill was eager to endorse projects that underwrote administrative costs within the British empire. Speaking before Parliament in 1920, Churchill cited Rutenberg's efforts as evidence that Jews were taking positive steps to make Palestine more productive and less of a drain on the British treasury. To Churchill, Rutenberg's plans proved that Jews more so than Arabs were the answer to Palestine's economic development problems because

left to themselves, the Arabs of Palestine would not in a thousand years have taken effective steps toward the irrigation and electrification of Palestine. They would have been quite content to dwell--a handful of philosophic people--in the wasted sun-scorched plains, letting the waters of the Jordan continue to flow unbridled and unharnessed into the Dead Sea.(n30)

Mead concurred with Churchill's assessment but went further in explaining just how Rutenberg's project would enable the Jordan Valley to support not only agriculture in the valley but industry and a higher standard of living throughout Palestine. A dam in the upper Jordan Valley would "light cities, turn the wheels of factories, pump water for irrigation, and give to the country a varied and prosperous industrial life." Mead saw that water in the Jordan Valley was crucial to the overall success of economic life throughout Palestine, a fact that later American visitors to the region like Walter Clay Lowdermilk built upon. Moreover, just as Mead attempted to recast American rural life into a form that facilitated greater and more .efficient interaction with urban markets, he also recognized that the Jordan River and its tributaries were vital components for urban and agricultural development outside the valley. And, unveiling a parallel that would surface in future Zionist literature, Mead compared Zionist agricultural efforts in Palestine to contemporary American agricultural successes. Mead proclaimed, "In their agriculture and rural life these valleys [in Palestine] promise to be a replica of southern California .... The largest single irrigated area in California is the Imperial Valley, and its counterpart in Palestine is the valley of the Jordan."(n31)

Weizmann subsequently cited Mead's recommendations and endorsements in his efforts both to manage colonization efforts in Palestine and to solicit additional funds from American supporters.(n32) But Mead's encouraging words did little to relieve increasingly difficult economic circumstances in Palestine. In addition to continuing economic difficulties in Palestine, increasingly restrictive British immigration policies and a decline in revenues from Zionist groups and supporters worldwide jeopardized Weizmann's dreams of Jewish nationhood in Palestine. By 1927, Jewish emigration from Palestine surpassed Jewish immigration into the country; the Jewish colonization efforts were nearing bankruptcy.(n33) Not surprisingly Weizmann again turned to Mead, suggesting that a comprehensive survey of Zionist agricultural efforts in Palestine since Mead's first visit would help counter bad publicity, reinvigorate Zionist fund-raising efforts in the United States and Europe, and "create a real financial foundation for the future."(n34) Moreover, a favorable report would reinvigorate Jewish immigration to Palestine both in terms of attracting more immigrants and loosening British immigration policies. Accordingly, Weizmann retained Mead and several other American experts drawn from American universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and arranged for them to visit Palestine during the summer and fall of 1927. But Mead's participation was particularly crucial both because of his expertise and, perhaps more importantly, because Weizmann trusted him. To Weizmann Mead was "a friend" who understood Palestine and the special nature of Zionist endeavors there, or so Weizmann believed.(n35)


Arriving in August 1927, Mead spent nearly two months in Palestine and submitted his report at the end of the year. Initially, Weizmann was stunned by Mead's recommendations. As a result of the continuing problems that Mead and the other American experts found, Mead recommended against the creation of any new Jewish settlements. Moreover, Mead advised that a large percentage of the colonization efforts should be written off. Although Mead found much to admire about the progress that the Jewish colonies had made since his last visit in 1923, he nevertheless reported on behalf of the panel experts "the truth as we see it."(n36) In short, Mead found the majority of Jewish colonies to be in severe economic trouble; social experimentation, waste, and inefficiency were undermining their agricultural efforts. Mead's forthright expert opinions validated Weizmann's fears that "outsiders, especially non-Jews, would judge bare facts and would have no understanding for the imponderables."(n37) Weizmann's earlier presumption that Mead understood the special nature of Zionist activities in Palestine proved incorrect. As an engineer and a fiscal conservative, Mead did not allow for imponderables; dreams and ideals could not be reconciled to the realities revealed by a slide-rule or a balance sheet. But, he remained dedicated to the idea that Palestine could be made productive and did not wish to see the Jewish effort in Palestine fail.

Consequently, when told that the report might be made public, Mead was immediately concerned that it would produce "ill results" and "unsettle public confidence in those entrusted with responsible control." In his correspondence with Weizmann during 1928, Mead urged the Zionist leader to keep the report confidential as it was meant only for circulation within the Zionist Organization. Publication would result in the negative conclusions being highlighted to the detriment of Mead s recommendations for improvement.(n38) Mead reminded Weizmann that agricultural colonization was a risky and expensive venture, declaring that "In 1924, the United States Congress wiped off $28,000,000 of the indebtedness of settlers on Federal reclamation projects .... " Similar losses had been suffered in attempts to colonize arid lands in Australia and South Africa.(n39)

Mead's report and later comments in support of Zionist efforts offered several insights into the problems of water management and economic development in Palestine, insights that both reinforced his earlier assessments and broadened the scope of water development he envisioned in Palestine. First, Mead noted that Jewish efforts continued to suffer the result of inadequate methods and unsatisfactory personnel. He criticized a deeply rooted aspect of early Zionist ideology, namely the "back to the soil" movement. This aspect of Zionist thought emphasized that a new Jewish life would emerge not through the replication of the urban ghettoes that so many Jews had left behind in Eastern Europe but from the soil of Palestine. Mead concluded that such a slogan attracted "emotional people with keen minds but lacking rural traditions and experience." Moreover, socialist ideology supplanted practical farm management techniques; the pursuit of a "new economic and social ideal" was a poor substitute for fiscal responsibility. Finally, the "mental attitude of the settlers" was unlike anything that he had seen before. "They are not bitter or resentful but show a patient endurance that is pathetic." Such attitudes wasted both water and money; they also confounded Mead's plans for a more efficient Palestine.(n40)

In his formal reports to Zionist leaders and correspondence with British mandatory officials, Mead remained committed to Zionist land reclamation efforts. Regardless of the various Jewish settlements' shortcomings and failures, Mead remained hopeful; he praised the overall accomplishment of the Zionist movement in Palestine and remained optimistic about Palestine's capacity for supporting a larger population. And as in his earlier reports and articles published after his first trip to Palestine in 1923, Mead pronounced the Zionists the only hope for the Arab population in Palestine. To Mead, Arab cultivators had done nothing to develop Palestine's water resources. Only Zionist "intelligence, science, and high purpose" would unlock the riches of the Huleh basin, "which could not be expected if the present Bedouin cultivators remain in control."(n41) Mead further argued that Arabs had not only squandered their economic opportunities in Palestine, but had also destroyed their inheritance, the mandate's land and water resources. In short, using an argument that future American Zionists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, would employ, Mead placed the blame for Palestine's poor economic performances squarely upon Arab culture. According to Mead, "more than 700 years" of Muslim Arab rule in Palestine had mined the landscape; "... during all that time nothing was done to preserve or develop the country's resources, or keep pace with the world's advances."(n42) He also asserted that Arabs had further compounded this neglect by engaging in "centuries of wasteful cultivation" and had been poor stewards of Palestine's land and water resources. Misuse, neglect, war, and fire had ravaged the hillsides and broken down terraces. As a result, Palestine's water resources, "always limited," were further "lessened."(n43) In recognition of these realities, Mead advised Jewish settlers to abandon their attempts to settle in the hills and to concentrate their efforts on the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley and the adjoining regions.(n44) The hill regions should be targeted for aforestation or left to be cultivated by Arabs who had "become adjusted to its meager rewards."(n45) ,Based on the available evidence, Mead appears not to have considered the possible culpability of either pre-Islamic Greco-Roman land practices or global climate change in his explanation of Palestine's environmental condition. To Mead, the majority contemporary population bore preponderant responsibility for the landscape's condition.

In addition to the problem of the various populations in Palestine, Mead also noted the unfortunate impact of politics on Palestine's water resources. Specifically, Mead noted the political fragmentation of the Jordan Valley. Recalling ancient Israel's biblical boundaries, Mead explained that contemporary Palestine and the Jordan Valley had been "reduced in resources to an extent that can only have a marked influence on what can be accomplished."(n46) Even more critical, therefore, was the need both to ascertain the amount of water available and to develop it within all possible limits. Much could be accomplished with the as yet untapped potential of the Jordan Valley, Emek, and Coastal plain. But wise management was essential.

Implicit in Mead's assessments were three critical aspects of contemporary water management. First, the Jordan Valley's water was only one component in an overall water resources base necessary for the economic development of Palestine. No one source of water was in fact separate from other water sources necessary for economic growth. Groundwater, river water, and rainwater were all interrelated and therefore must be managed as part of a greater whole. Second, water for agriculture was only one part of the program; Palestine's land-water nexus was in reality the critical foundation for a modern industrial state in which an economy's agricultural sector promoted an expanding industrial sector. As in California, Mead understood that both agricultural produce and water were part of urban and industrial development. The strict lines between rural and urban no longer existed. Zionist "back to the soil" slogans aside, Palestine's urban centers and factories were equally critical components in a program for agricultural economic development specifically and national economic development in general. Third, Mead also emphasized watershed management. Specifically, aforestation efforts were essential. The hills overlooking the Jordan Valley had been denuded by combinations of neglect, warfare, and harmful Arab agricultural practices. Mead's advice represented the confluence of three key principles: consolidation of settlements, intensification of agriculture, and wise management of people and production. Zionist land purchases would help consolidate Jewish holdings. Larger, more efficiently irrigated farms would be more productive and fiscally sound. Wise management would replace socialist ideology, redress inexperience, and curb wasteful Arab land and water practices. Although Weizmann was greatly disturbed by Mead's recommendations that the Zionist leadership both declare a moratorium on future settlements and write-off the large debts incurred by the settlement program, his recommendation of land purchases for the consolidation of land holdings was warmly received, albeit for reasons other than Mead envisioned. Mead proposed the purchases to facilitate more efficient irrigation; Weizmann, while not unaware of the economic benefits, wanted the land as part of a continuing program of national development.(n47)

Mead's final efforts in support of Zionist interests in Palestine consisted of advice on the formulation of water law and lobbying efforts in their behalf with Sir Arthur G. Wauchope, High Commissioner for the British Mandatory government in Palestine. Weizmann repeatedly attempted to get Mead to visit Palestine again. Violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in late 1929, continuing economic difficulties, and an increasingly hostile British mandatory regime once again necessitated a publicity campaign advertising positive Zionist accomplishments in Palestine. And again, Weizmann turned to Mead.(n48) But Mead was occupied with both the crises generated by worsening economic circumstances in America and the solutions demanded both by presidents and voters. The economic depression in the United States and the construction of the Boulder Dam limited Mead's ability to assist Palestine and Jewish colonization. Nevertheless, Mead remained actively engaged in an advisory capacity until his death in January 1936, particularly in the area of water law. During the early 1930s, in response to escalating demands and controversies over water resources in Palestine, the British mandatory government considered a series of prospective laws governing Palestine's water resources. Although England formally won control of Palestine in 1922 with the San Remo agreement, Ottoman Turkish water law formulated during the late 19th century ultimately remained in use until the early 1940s. Concerned primarily with potable water sources, Ottoman water law was increasingly ill-suited to growing irrigation and industrial needs in mandatory Palestine.(n49) Although British attempts to revise the Ottoman Code during the 1930s were unsuccessful because of both Jewish and Arab opposition, their efforts clearly indicated that Mead's advice was influential beyond Zionist circles in Palestine. In fact, on water law, Mead proved that his ultimate loyalty remained with efficient water management rather than the Zionist cause. But, as later developments proved, Mead was both practical and prescient.

Mead stressed the necessity of a careful survey of all water resources, advocated laws based on the legal doctrine of prior appropriation rather than on riparian doctrine, and provided copies of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and California water legislation as models for water law in Palestine.(n50) Specifically, Mead suggested a variety of models for water management: irrigation districts (Wyoming and Colorado), cooperative associations (Utah), and "private water companies under public regulation." In each instance, Mead emphasized the need to collect accurate data, to establish first claim to usage, and to centralize water authority. The implementation of prior appropriation would have placed Zionist settlers at an advantage in that they in most instances were the first to develop many water sources. Mead's advice, replete with examples of positive benefits and negative consequences drawn from the American west, was widely circulated among the Zionist leadership. The 1932 Draft Irrigation Law declared water government property and vested the mandatory regime with complete control for developing and regulating Palestine's water resources. Fearing that such control would better enable the British to frustrate their colonization efforts, the Zionists rejected it. Mead urged "patience and conciliation" with the British mandatory regime rather than protest, primarily because the law included many water management principles that he endorsed. Mead saw the vesting of water control in a central authority as being the most efficient and wisest course of action for water resource development in Palestine. But Zionists saw such control as a potential weapon against their efforts to increase immigration. To Mead, however, time was on the side of Palestine Jews, provided they adopted his suggestions for land and water management. Their efficient management of land and water resources would demonstrate the worthiness of their cause to the Arabs, the British, and the world.(n51) In this respect, Mead displayed a naive optimism, typical of many American progressives of the period; economic rationale and sound management principles would ultimately prevail over politics. However, neither Mead nor the Zionists were capable of promulgating water law in Palestine; that authority resided with the British mandatory government and heeded the dictates of London. Consequently, water law remained beyond Zionist control but not beyond Mead's influence.

Mead repeatedly lobbied the British High Commissioner, Sir Arthur G. Wauchope, on behalf of the Zionist program. Employing what was by then a well developed and often repeated set of arguments, Mead directly addressed recent British reports that the Jewish settlers had violated both the spirit and the letter of the Balfour Declaration. In the aftermath of anti-Jewish Arab riots in 1929, a British investigation had indicated that Arab attacks against Jews had been the results of Jewish infringements upon the rights of Palestinian Arabs, a clear violation of the Balfour Declaration. In his correspondence with Wauchope, Mead defended the Zionist program for Palestine. Mead noted that Jewish colonists had produced "a marvelous transformation" in the Palestinian landscape. What the Jewish settlers had accomplished in scattered settlements in the Jordan Valley, along the coast, and in the Emek (the region joining the coast with the northern Jordan Valley) was destined "to be extended." In retrospect, this development was precisely the concern expressed by Arabs publicly and by British mandatory officials privately. In answer to these concerns, Mead noted that in his visits to Palestine he had seen nothing "to indicate that the Arab was injured." Moreover, the Jewish example of "what modern finance and equipment can do, coupled with the sympathetic interest of the government is bringing him out of the hopeless inertia that misgovernment and oppression of centuries past have created .... " Jewish settlers in Palestine were not only reclaiming the land, they were elevating living standards for the Arab population and assisting the British government. Finally, Mead noted that "the problems of Palestine...[were] of worldwide interest..." and required the widest range of expertise. Accordingly, he offered Wauchope both his services and a copy of Wyoming's irrigation laws.(n52) Although no evidence to date has been uncovered indicating Wauchope's response, there is abundant evidence indicating that British mandatory officials were greatly concerned about the health of the Palestinian economy generally and Arab agricultural productivity specifically in the 1930s. Moreover, the British mandatory regime's actions with regard to water resource management were, if not influenced by Mead, certainly consonant with many of his suggestions.(n53)


Although Mead never visited Palestine again, his influence and that of Wyoming water law ultimately became a part of both British mandatory law and later Israeli law. In an ironic turn of events, the mandatory government conducted a survey of ground water in 1933. The results indicated, as Mead had feared, that Palestine's groundwater supplies were being over-utilized. But the subsequent British attempts to restrict usage provoked a storm of protests from both Jews and Arabs. Water legislation in mandatory Palestine proved as difficult and as politically controversial as similar efforts in the American west during the late 19th century. And, given the deteriorating political climate in Europe by the mid-1930s, the British were reluctant to exacerbate political tensions in Palestine. Therefore, not surprisingly, proposed legislation to conduct further surveys and to establish a regulatory board were never implemented. Similarly, in the early 1940s the mandatory government drafted further ordinances on surface water usage that were clearly influenced by Wyoming water law. Specifically, the legislation both prioritized water rights according to the doctrine of "beneficial use" (water rights based upon economic utilization) and tied water rights to land ownership. But again, public outcry prevented the final adoption of the legislation.(n53) Although Mead's advice on water law placed greater power in the hands of the British and therefore was not endorsed by Zionists for reasons previously discussed, the ultimate validation of Mead's ideas on water law occurred nearly thirty years later with the passage of Israel's Water Law of 1959. This law declared all waters, surface, groundwater, waste and drainage waters as well as flood waters, as public property and placed them under state supervision for "the development of the country."(n54)

Mead's recommendations ultimately became Israeli realities. In 1957, Israel completed the drainage of the Huleh Basin; in 1964, Israel began pumping water from the Jordan River to Israel's coastal and southern regions. As Mead had envisioned, the Jordan Valley's waters became part of an integrated water network that helped meet Israel's domestic, agricultural, and industrial needs. Yet, many of Mead's concerns also became a part of Israel's future. Mead warned that only areas in the Jordan Valley or within range of "economic lift" capability should be irrigated; to pump water from the Sea of Galilee or the lower Jordan would not be economical. Sixty years later, continued pumping from the Sea of Galilee consumed more than one-fifth of Israel's electricity. In addition, every winter, part of the Jordan's waters are pumped at great cost into badly depleted coastal aquifers. Mead's fears that over-utilized wells would suffer salt water intrusion were realized in the mid-1950s.(n55) Moreover, Mead warned that the areas now part of southern Israel, or the Negev region, were too arid and too far away from viable water sources to merit cultivation. More than sixty years later and despite vaunted, and controversial, attempts to make this region bloom, it remains largely unconquered by agriculture. Given the region's hydraulic realities, such grandiose dreams proved economically unsustainable and politically dangerous.

Mead's legacy for Palestine was two-fold. First, he was the first American water planner to envision the Jordan Valley as part of large-scale economic development program for Palestine. Water in the valley could not remain in the valley; its potential economic benefit was too great to be left underutilized. Moreover, although Mead's concerns were primarily with irrigation and agriculture, he clearly understood that a modern Palestine, like a rapidly developing American west, required water from all available sources. The Jordan's waters were part of a much larger picture. Lowdermilk's Palestine Land of Promise (1944) skillfully painted this picture with its call for a Jordan Valley Authority (JVA) modeled after the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as a basis for regional economic development. Second, and perhaps more important, Mead also opened a conduit between Zionists and American experts in the Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Agriculture, and the TVA. This conduit not only served as a font of technical wisdom but also afforded Zionists valuable political leverage in future public relations campaigns aimed at American audiences. Because the U.S. State Department was at best lukewarm and more often openly hostile to Zionist efforts in Palestine throughout the mandatory period, Americans in other parts of the U.S. government became increasingly more important and more active in American-Palestine relations. American water resource experts and American diplomats were rarely on the same side during the 1930s and 1940s, but the fluid nature of both American politics and institutional interests facilitated a growing relationship between an emerging Jewish nation and Americans eager to duplicate American hydraulic institutions and practices in Palestine. The implication of this relationship for Palestine's Arab population were, and remain, noteworthy.


(n1.) Alwyn R. Rouyer, "Zionism and Water: Influences on Israel's Future Water Policy During the Pre-State Period," Arab Studies Quarterly 18 (Fall 1996): 25-47.

(n2.) See Walter Clay Lowdermilk, Palestine: Land of Promise (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1944) and James B. Hays, TVA on the Jordan: Proposals for Irrigation and Hydro-electric Developments in Palestine (Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1948).

(n3.) Samuel P. Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), 122-127.

(n4.) James R. Kluger, Turning on Water with a Shovel: The Career of Elwood Mead (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992), 7-11.

(n5.) Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), 182.

(n6.) Worster, 182-186; Kluger, 14-40 and 115-132.

(n7.) Elwood Mead, "Report to the Zionist Executive on the Agricultural Development in Palestine, 1923," Z4/File 5260, Central Zionist Archive (CZA), Jerusalem.

(n8.) Reports of Julius Wilkansky, "Research Tour of California, 1920," Z4/File 1099, CZA.

(n9.) Kluger, 85-101.

(n10.) Wilkansky, "Research Tour of California, 1920," Zionist Organization/The Jewish Agency--Central Office London, Z4, File 1099, CZA.

(n11.) Chaim Weizmann to Selig Soskin, 16 December 1921, Pulice and Private Papers of Chaim Weizmann, Vol. X (PPCW), 338. See also, Walter Laquer, A History of Zionism (New York: Schocken Books, 1976), 351-352.

(n12.) Chaim Weizmann to Emanuel Neumann, 26 January 1922, PPCW, Vol XI, 19.

(n13.) Kluger, 108.

(n14.) See Naomi W. Cohen, American Jews and the Zionist Idea (New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1975), 16-26 and Laquer, 458-462.

(n15.) Norman Rose, Chaim Weizmann: A Biography (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 210.

(n16.) Weizmann to Frederick Kisch (Head of Palestine Zionist Executive), 22 October 22 and 14-16 November 1923, PPCW Vol XII, 7 and 24.

(n17.) Elwood Mead, Report to the Zionist Executive, "Agricultural Development in Palestine, 1923," Z4, File 5260, CZA, 32.

(n18.) Ibid, 2-6.

(n19.) Chaim Weizmann to Vera Weizmann, 25 December 1926, PPCW, Vol XIII.

(n20.) Mead, "Report on Agricultural Development in Palestine," 8 and Appendix II.

(n21.) Ibid, Appendix II.

(n22.) Chaim Weizmann to Louis Marshall, 17 July 1924, PPCW, Vol. XII.

(n23.) Kenneth W. Stein, The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1939 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 201-202.

(n24.) Chaim Weizmann to President of Action Committee, 14 February 1924, PPCW, Vol. XII.

(n25.) Chaim Weizmann to Frederick Kisch and Siegried van Vriesland, 29 May 1924, PPCW, Vol. XII.

(n26.) Chaim Weizmann to Louis Marshall, 17 July 1924, PPCW, Vol. XII.

(n27.) Chaim Weizmann to Louis Marshall, 17 July 1924, PPCW, Vol. XII.

(n28.) Text of intended message to Dr. Arthur Ruppin (Director of the Palestine Office of the Zionist Organization), 19 November 1923. File 858, Weizmann Archives, Rehovot, Israel (WA).

(n29.) Elwood Mead, "The New Palestine," The American Review of Reviews, 70 (December, 1924): 624-625. For background on Mead's racial and ethnic attitudes see Kluger, pp. 97-98 and Worster, pp. 182-185.

(n30.) Quoted in David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922 (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1989), 523.

(n31.) Mead, "The New Palestine," ibid.

(n32.) See Weizmann to President of Action Committee, 14 February 1924; Weizmann to Frederick Kisch and Siegfried van Vriesland, 29 May 1924; Weizmann to Samuel Barnett, 17 June 1924; Weizmann to Louis Marshall, 17 July 1924 in PPCW, Vol. XIII.

(n33.) Rose, 240.

(n34.) Weizmann to Vera Weizmann, 25 December 1926, PPCW, Vol. XIII.

(n35.) Weizmann to Vera Weizmann, 1 December 1926, ibid.

(n36.) Elwood Mead, "Agricultural Colonization in Palestine," (Full Report), 28 December 1927, Israel National Archives, Jerusalem.

(n37.) Weizmann to Oskar Wasserman, 13 February 1928, PPCW, Vol. XIII.

(n38.) Elwood Mead to Chaim Weizmann, 30 April 1928, Weizmann Papers, File 1202, Weizmann Archives, Rehovot, Israel.

(n39.) Elwood Mead to Chaim Weizmann, 25 May 1928, Weizmann Papers, File 1202, Weizmann Archives, Rehovot, Israel.

(n40.) Elwood Mead, "Summary of Report on Agricultural Colonization in Palestine, 1927" Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency for Palestine Central Office (London), Z4/5110, Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem.

(n41.) Elwood Mead to Ben V. Cohen, 29 August 1932, ZOA Papers F 38, File 1246, CZA, Jerusalem.

(n42.) Mead, "Summary of Report."

(n43.) Mead, "Agricultural Colonization in Palestine," 9.

(n44.) Mead to Weizmann, 25 May 1928.

(n45.) Mead to Ben V. Cohen.

(n46.) Ibid.

(n47.) Chaim Weizmann to Elwood Mead, 19 May 1928, PPCW, Vol. XIII.

(n48.) Chaim Weizmann to Felix Warburg, 17 June 1930; Weizmann to Warburg, 19 June 1930, PPCW, Vol. XIV.

(n49.) For the best explanation of both Ottoman law and the pressures upon it see Dante A. Caponera, Water Laws in Moslem Countries (Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1954); Saul Aloni, "Modern Water Legislation and Development" (in Israel), paper read before the International Conference on Water for Peace contained in published conference proceedings, vol. 5, 538-542.

(n50.) For definitions and explanations of water law, i.e., riparian, prior appropriation, and beneficial use in the context of the American west, see Donald J. Pisani, TO Reclaim A Divided West: Water, Law, and Public Policy 1848-1902 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992), 11-12.

(n51.) Elwood Mead to Julius Simon (President of the Palestine Economic Committee), 9 September 1932; Elwood Mead to Ben V. Cohen (Palestine Economic Committee), 29 August 1932; Julius Simon to Chaim Arlosoroff, 28 September 1932; Zionist Organization of America Papers, F38, File 1246, CZA.

(n52.) Elwood Mead to Sir Arthur Wauchope, 1 August 1932; Mead to Wauchope, 26 September, 1932, Zionist Organization of America Papers, F 38, File 1246, CZA.

(n53.) "A Survey of Palestine, Vol. 1" prepared for the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, December 1945 and January 1946, reprinted by the Institute of Palestine Studies, Washington, D.C., 1991.

(n54.) Aloni, 539.

(n55.) Fred Pearce, "Wells of Conflict on the West Bank," New Scientist, 1 June 1991, 37.

Robert E. Rook is an assistant professor of history at Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas.